6.1. Alexander Standish[10A1]

6.1. (34) AS 1603-5: A Couple of Local Legends: (ii) Guy Fawkes

Helen Moorwood 2013

N.B. By clicking on the coloured title you can return to the original articles written in early 2004 and placed by Peter Duxbury on A Duxbury Family Website in March 2004, where it still is, under:

Helen's Story: from Duxbury to Shakespeare. The story of William Shakespeare's Lancashire Ancestry, by Helen Moorwood

10. The Biography of Alexander Standish

N.B. Most of this still stands, but where appropriate the 2004 version is now updated below by interspersed commentary in square brackets and italics. Some reformatting was necessary, and the occasional typo – whether by Peter or myself - has been silently corrected. Asap a shorter narrative version of his biography will appear, based, of course, on all details and documents in this file. Meanwhile, this is part (34) of (1) to (45) AS. [2013 HM]


(34) (ii) Guy Fawkes

1605. The Gunpowder Plot. I have known about this ‘legend’ for many years, have read the dismissal of it by local historians, but have come to believe that it might actually have been true - or at least a little bit of it. The Radcliffes of Ordsall are reputed to have provided refuge for Guy Fawkes during his plotting, with a Radcliffe daughter involved and others helping him to escape via a tunnel. The tunnel was certainly there, rediscovered when building a carpark. This legend was elaborated on by William Harrison Ainsworth (from Manchester) in his Romantic novel Guy Fawkes, a best seller in the 19th century. Most legendary details relating to the Radcliffes have been subsequently (predictably?) dismissed as fable by historians in the 20th century. If there were, however, to be a grain of truth in this one, then we can be fairly sure that AS would have heard about it at the time, particularly as it involved relatives of his wife’s family. I therefore hang it on his peg.

Any reader who has survived the course so far will have gathered that I suffer interminably from the belief that most ‘legends’ are probably based on at least a kernel of truth, rather than invented out of nowhere. I bequeath any further investigation of this story to someone local (someone actually involved with Ordsall Hall, now the local museum?), with the following information perhaps of relevance. I have just been cherry-picking around ‘Guy Fawkes at Ordsall’ for a few years, but some of the 16th and 17th century cherries were yummy. Some of them were in my cheek when I popped into St John’s College, Cambridge a couple of summers ago and spoke to Dr Mark Nicholls, an expert on the Gunpowder Plot, who confirmed yet again that we know so little about Guy Fawkes and his movements. I would quite happily accept a dismissal as a cherry-picker, but some of these seemed to contain rather solid stones. I merely report. One short version and dismissal of the story is as follows; the underlinings are mine, of names that leapt off the page.

In his romantic novel of Guy Fawkes, which many people have accepted as authentic history, Ainsworth introduces us to one Viviana Radclyffe, the sole representative of her family at Ordsall during the absence of her father, Sir William Radclyffe, who is away attending a meeting of Catholic gentry at Holt in Cheshire. Viviana is represented as a fair maid of eighteen, whom Catesby comes in secrecy to woo, and at Ordsall encounters Guy Fawkes, who has come to secure the support of the Radclyffes in the Plot. When the hall is raided by pursuivants, Catesby, Fawkes, and the priest are all rescued by the timely intervention of Humphrey Chetham, who conducts them by a secret passage running beneath the moat to a summer-house in the grounds, and thence through Old Trafford to Chat Moss. Humphrey Chetham is portrayed as in love with Viviana, but differences of religious faith make their marriage impossible, and the story closes with Humphrey left solitary, his life “tinged by the blighting of his early affection . . . true to his love, he died unmarried.”

Records fail to reveal that the Radclyffes had even the most remote association with the Gunpowder Treason. Ordsall in 1605 was in possession of Sir John, the last Sir William, his grandfather, having died in 1568. There was never any female of the house named Viviana and the only surviving sister of Sir John was Jane, then thirty years of age, and married to Sir Ralph Constable. It is a fact that Humphrey Chetham was a friend of the family, and in later years advanced them money on mortgage when their fortunes fell on evil days, though whether he had cherished any romantic attachment to a daughter of the Radclyffes, possibly Anne, who died in 1601, has not been recorded in the story of his life. Picturesque though Ainsworth’s story is, and glamorous the atmosphere of romance it spreads about the ancient hall of Ordsall, it must be dismissed as purely the figment of the author’s imaginative mind, though indeed the Radclyffes as much as any family had cause for bitterness in the heavy penalties inflicted upon them for their alleged recusancy. But this never tempted Sir John Radclyffe to depart one whit from his loyalty and patriotic service.

(The Book of the Radclyffes, Constable, Edinburgh U.P., 1948, pp. 161-2.)

The account continues in a similar vein, reverential towards the family, dismissive of any ‘legend’. The story of Guy Fawkes at Ordsall presents more questions than answers. It might well have been a fabrication, but why on earth? By whom? And if fabricated here, why not more visits by Guy Fawkes fabricated at many more halls? They weren’t, and this ‘fabrication’ seems to remain unique. William Harrison Ainsworth prided himself, and was praised by others at the time, for his intensive research into historical details. He might well have romanticised in his novels, but he certainly believed that he was basing these on the historical truth, because of his knowledge and research. He lived exactly half-way between AS & Co. and us today, therefore two centuries closer to the original characters. Was he really so hopelessly wrong? Maybe. A few facts and questions:

- Ainsworth is not only the surname of the novelist but appears in many documents in Lancashire, including some in the Standish of Duxbury family papers. Might one dare to assume that various Ainsworths passed down a few family traditions over a couple of centuries, some of which reached the ears of William Harrison?

- Viviana, the name of the relevant female at Ordsall, is perhaps unique, and maybe she never existed, but I could not stop wondering whether it was connected somehow with the Vivian/ Evan Haydock (and others with this forename), who crop up so frequently in Lancashire history at the time. Is there really no record at all of a Viviana in this family? If not, how and why did Ainsworth dream up this name?

- Holt in Cheshire. Could this have been the one just over the border in Flintshire, which had been the home of Sir William Stanley, victor at Bosworth, younger brother of Thomas, 1st Earl of Derby, who was executed in 1495 by Henry VII for apparently rather spurious reasons, the main official one being a charge of treason for something he had said about Lambert Simnel (who never visited Lancashire, as opposed to Perkin Warbeck, who did. Shades of 1066 and All That, but Derby literature gives the details.) One apochryphal follow-up to this story is when the court jester of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, accompanied his master onto the roof of Lathom House along with Henry VII, who was visiting his stepfather in 1497, and said something along the lines of “Tom, remember Will”. Will was his younger brother, who had lost his head and the jester, it seems, was worried that his master might be pushed over the edge [or that Tom might push Henry over in reciprocation for his brother?]. He wasn’t and lived on until 1504 to die in his bed. Who did Will’s confiscated lands go to? [Tatton Old Hall went to the Breretons, later bought by Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Chancellor, who later enters AS’s story.] The very memory of this story might have been enough to make Holt a centre of dissent against the Tudors and Stuarts. Has anyone ever investigated this? This Sir William Stanley of Holt was brushed out of Tudor history and did not appear in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Who were all the Catholic gentlemen meeting in Cheshire shortly before the Gunpowder Plot? They seem to have remained remarkably elusive for most investigators at the time and ever since.

- Catesby should probably have gone down in history as the leader of the Gunpowder Plot, rather than Guy Fawkes. Has anyone ever investigated his possible connections with Lancashire and Cheshire? He must have passed through Cheshire on the group pilgrimage to St Winifred’s Shrine in Holywell (one recorded event agreed on by all authorities, but still shrouded in mystery).

- Humphrey Chetham was the founder of Chetham’s Library in Manchester, and as such his public life is rather well documented, but it seems some of his private life remains mysterious.

Heaven knows how all these details might connect, but if Harrison Ainsworth invented their connection with Ordsall, he hit on a good bunch of names. One plausible connection could be that the Fawkes family of Yorkshire (Guy was born in York) was related to the Vaux (pronounced Vawkes in Lancashire), the latter mostly Catholic, including Laurence Vaux, the priest who, along with Cardinal William Allen, had been the spiritual head of the Catholics in Lancashire in Elizabeth’s reign. He was a good friend of the Standishes of Standish, choosing Standish Hall to hide all his Catholic possessions (Porteus, 1927). A “Vaulx” daughter was also married at this time to Thomas Standish of Duxbury, Colonel Richard’s uncle, and his mother (Colonel Richard’s grandmother) was a Radcliffe of Ordsall. (All on their Visitation Pedigree of 1613.) The Vaux family of Hawarden in Northamptonshire also played a large role in the story. Were they close kinsmen? Another from Lancashire involved in this plot was William Parker, 4th Lord Mounteagle, of Hornby Castle near Lancaster, whose grandfather we met above selling half of Heath Charnock in 1574 before departing into exile. And, as we will read below, AS popped up later in court in London with Sir William Ingleby, grandfather of the two Wintour brothers who joined Catesby, Digby and Fawkes in their gruesome fate.

Despite centuries of intensive research, many circumstances leading up to the fateful night of 5 November remain unclear and are still disputed. Maybe Lancashire might provide a few more clues? Guy Fawkes’s commander in the army of English Catholic exiles in the Netherlands was Sir William Stanley of Hooton in the Wirral, ‘The Adventurer/ Traitor’, depending which side you were on, and the Wirral is not far from Salford. Lancashire was also still the most Catholic of all counties and had provided many participants in previous plots, making it one obvious destination to find a few more accomplices. One of the previous plotters attempting to free Mary, Queen of Scots had been Sir Thomas Gerard of Bryn, whose son John, a Jesuit priest, wrote an account of the Gunpowder Plot from eyewitness accounts. And, very intriguingly, a portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby, son of Sir Everard Digby, one of the plotters executed, still hangs today in Rufford Old Hall, home of the Catholic Heskeths and hosts by tradition of young William Shakespeare. Sir Kenelm later married Venetia Stanley, daughter of Sir Edward, whose father Sir Thomas Stanley had also been involved in the 1570 plot, and for whom Shakespeare wrote epitaphs.

Are these all coincidences? Maybe. Or maybe Guy did visit Ordsall Hall? And maybe the Heskeths knew some of the plotters in London? Ben Jonson certainly supped with some of them a few weeks before and was hauled in for questioning. He also wrote an ode for Sir John Radcliffe when he was killed in France in 1627 (Book of the Radclyffes, p. 163). He was also the one to dub Lord Mounteagle ‘the saviour of the nation’.

This plot, it seems, is still thickening nearly four hundred years after the event. Father Thomas Conlan (in his tenth and last letter to Father Peter Milward in 1975) was convinced that Shakespeare was involved, even entertaining some of them at New Place in Stratford (!), although one has to wonder how he might have got away without being hauled in for questioning. At the least one might assume that if Ben Jonson knew some of the protagonists then his friend Will Shakespeare would have found it rather difficult not to know them too. And AS must have known most of those involved from Lancashire. The next episode in this never-ending saga might come from Francis Edwards, who has promised a book on plots and plotters in James’s reign. Maybe a few local historians from the North West will join in? No doubt there will be a spate of publications in the year of the fourth centenary.


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